The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section VII. 1-3

“The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he has been please to express by way of covenant (I Sam. 2:25; Job 9:32-33; 22:2-3; 35:7-8; Pss. 113:5-6; 100:2-3; Is. 40:13-17; Hos. 6:5; Lk. 17:10; Acts 17:24-25).” The Fathers recognized that there is ample scriptural proof that God established the human race in a covenant relationship with himself through its head – Adam. However, it includes more than the human creatures, it includes all creatures. When they indicated that a reasonable creature owes obedience, they focused on that central core of being human – being of a rational mind to in fact see the reasonableness of obeying the Creator. For this reason many choose to describe this first covenant as ‘the covenant of creation’.1

This is certainly what is implied in the first section of this chapter. However, it has also come to be called, as here in the second section, a covenant of works, given the probationary law test which was imposed upon the head of creation – humanity in Adam.2“The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works (Gal. 3:12), wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity (Rom. 5:12-20; 10:5), upon condition of perfection and personal obedience (Gen. 2:17; Gal. 3:10).” “As Christ was a federal head, representing all his spiritual seed in the covenant of grace, so Adam was a federal head representing all his natural seed in the covenant of works (I Cor. 15:45-47).”3 Although it is called a covenant of works, that is as to the requirement of perfect obedience. However, there is a sense in which any move on God’s part to establish a relationship with his creatures is itself a condescension of grace. Life eternal would also been a gift, if we had obeyed.4

Obedience to our Creator is but our duty, whether in the covenant of works or that of grace. Clark also brings out the point that, should one complain that they were thus regarded as acting through Adam as the covenantal head of humanity, “God could have tested each descendent personally in exactly the same way he decided to test Adam. God did not have to grant eternal life to succeeding generations merely because Adam obeyed.”5 Clark also points out the biblical conception on how sin is thus transmitted to Adam’s posterity. Some teach that our sinful nature is passed on by the simple act of pro-creation, that is physically. This is but one example where the church still retains a kind of pagan dualism, where the body is evil in and of itself. However, as Reformed, we know that the whole of our constitution is affected. Rather, we sinned in Adam by way of he representing us as our covenantal head, so that at that moment we became sinners in him.

“This idea brings to our attention the interesting relation that God established between Adam and his posterity. It was not merely that Adam was their father. He was, in addition, their representative. His act was to be counted as their act. He acted for and instead of them. This relation was mentioned in the reference to imputed guilt in Chapter VI, and further explanations will be given when we arrive at the relation between Christ and those who believe on him. Chapter VI also made it quite clear that Adam did not fulfill the covenant of works. He disobeyed, and thereby made necessary a second covenant, if anyone was to be saved.”6 Hodge makes the same point. “This covenant was also in its essence a covenant of grace, in that it graciously promised life in the society of God as the freely-granted reward of an obedience already unconditionally due.”7

Shaw makes the following point, should anyone be so proud as to think that they may have acted differently. “Adam, being made after the image of God, was as capable of keeping the covenant as any of his posterity could ever be supposed to be; that he should fulfill it was as much his personal interest as that of any of his descendants.”8It should also be noted that the tree that our head was commanded not to eat from was described as “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”(Gen. 2:9). This is crucial to understand. The chief point of contact, and here of the one command of our probation, was a clearly epistemological one, with its concomitant of ethics. We decided to reject the revelation of the Creator, and in its place we accepted the lies of the Serpent, and reasoning apart from revelation we thus sinned by transgressing God’s law. This continues to be the key issue today.

“Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second (Gen. 3:15; Is. 42:6; Gal. 3:21; Rom. 3:20-21; 8:3), commonly called the Covenant of Grace: whereby he freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved (Mk. 16:15-16; Jn. 3:16; Rom. 10:6, 9; Gal. 3:11); and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe (Ezek. 36:26-27; Jn. 6:44-45; Acts 13:48).” In a similar manner, even though the covenant of grace is called such, it is not to imply that works are not involved in the covenant relationship. However, the requirement of repentance and faith is provided by God as a gift, and so also our works are as a result of God working in and through us by his grace. Here we see that the promise is still life, but it is life which must now be inseparable from salvation.

Van Dixhoorn makes a valuable point here. “From the words ‘requiring them’ and ‘promising…those’ it appears that WCF 7.3 presents the covenant as made with sinners; it does not specify whether the covenant is made with sinners in Christ. In WCF 7.6 it is clear that the substance of the covenant of grace is Christ himself. Where the first covenant is a deep expression of God’s willingness to have fellowship with mere creatures, this second covenant is a staggering display of God’s willingness to forgive and to have fellowship with those who are unworthy.”9 Some would argue that the word covenant does not occur with either of these, but we believe in the trinity, though the word also does not occur in the bible. The point is that all the elements of a covenant are there. Furthermore, salvation is also a trinitarian reality, in that we are given the Holy Spirit that we might be willing.

“When Ezekiel recorded God’s promise of a ‘new heart’ for heartless sinners, he was also told to tell of ‘a new Spirit’ who would be ‘within’ us (Ezek. 36:26). It is by this Spirit that the Father would ‘draw us’ to the waters of salvation, and teach us to come to Christ (John 6:44,45). And remember too that this gift is for those who are ‘ordained unto eternal life’ and nothing less. For in this second covenant, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have offered a relationship to us that will never end.”10 “In this covenant the Mediator assumes in behalf of his elect seed the broken conditions of the old covenant of works precisely as Adam left them. Christ therefore suffered the penalty, and extinguished in behalf of all whom he represented the claims of the old covenant. Subsequently, in the administration and gracious application of this covenant, Christ the Mediator offers the blessings secured by it to all men on the condition of faith.”11

1. ‘The Christ Of The Covenants’ O. Palmer Robertson.

2. The Shorter catechism in fact calls it the covenant of life, since that was the promise held out as a reward for obedience (#12).

3. Shaw, (129)

4. John Murray, ‘The Covenant Of Grace’.

5. (86)

6. (86)

7. (122)

8. (130 Cf. Shaw also makes the point that the fathers rejected the notion of a so-called ‘covenant of redemption’ between the persons of the trinity 131-2. The trinity certainly determined in eternity to establish these covenants, and with respect to the covenant of grace, the roles played by each person 133-)

9. (100)

10. Ibid., (101)

11. Hodge, (125 Cf. WLC Ch. 7)

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section VI. 5-6

“The corruption of nature, during this life, does remain in those that are regenerated (Pr. 20:9; Ec. 7:20; Rom. 7:14-18, 23; Js. 3:2; I Jn. 1:8-10), and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin (Rom. 7:5-8, 25; Gal. 5:17).” As noted in the previous sections, the corruption of our human nature is as a result of our first sin, in Adam, in transgressing a specific law of the covenant of works, as will be shown in the next chapter. This corruption remains in those who have been regenerated, even though we are nevertheless pronounced ‘justified’ through our relationship of imputation with Christ, in the one covenant of grace. ‘Mortified’ is an older term not often employed today, which means as one might suppose, in the putting to death of sin that remains in us.1 It is therefore of the purview of sanctification, and in stating that we are both pardoned and mortified through Christ, the authors are affirming that the grounds for progressive sanctification is a complete or definitive sanctification gained by Christ in his death and resurrection.

It is both the nature corrupted, and the sins flowing from this corruption, that are “truly and properly sin.” There is no other name for this condition. “Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto (I Jn. 3:4), does, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner (Rom. 2:15; 3:9, 19), whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God (Eph. 2:3), and curse of the law (Gal. 3:10), and so made subject to death (Rom. 6:23), with all miseries spiritual (Eph. 4:18), temporal (Rom. 8:20; Lam. 3:39), and eternal (Mt. 25:41; II Th. 1:9).” The fathers were quick to define sin in biblical terms as, “being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto (I Jn. 3:4),” and ‘guilt’ is a judicial pronouncement of our act in the original sin, and our corrupted nature and acts done exclusively by ourselves therefrom. As such, all humanity is also therefore subject to God’s wrath, and a covenantal curse for the transgression of his law. As such we are subject to the consequent death, with all its “spiritual miseries.” For the regenerate, the process of mortification is the putting to death of sin’s power and dominion.

Our miseries, as a result of our sinful condition, are both temporal and eternal, unless we are renewed by regeneration within the one covenant of grace. The Larger Catechism expounds on these ‘miseries’ of the reprobate further, in the 28th Question which asks, “‘What are the punishments of sin in this world?’ A. The punishments of sin in this world are either inward, as blindness of mind, a reprobate sense, strong delusions, hardness of heart, horror of conscience, and vile affections; or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes, and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments; together with death itself.” #29 addresses those miseries that befall the reprobate at their physical death. “The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire forever.” (See Gen. 3:17; 4:13; Dt. 28:15-68; Is. 33:14; Mt. 5:29-30; 25:41, 46; 27:4; Mk. 9:44-48; Lk. 16:24; Rom. 1:26-28; 6:21-23; 2:5; Eph. 4:18; II Th. 1:9; 2:11; Rev. 14:9-12).

The Confession clearly repudiates the false belief of perfectionism, that although we do progress in our sanctification as those regenerated by the Spirit, this process will not be complete until death, when we are made completely new in reality. The point is, in being justified we are indeed forgiven of all our sins, including those in the future, but a sign that we are truly regenerated, is that we are engaged in our sanctification daily. Furthermore, the confession also repudiates the false teaching that we are two persons and not one, i.e., the old man and the new. Rather, the old man is crucified, but the remnants of sin which remain are to be mortified. The Confession also repudiates the doctrine of the Roman Church that there are so-called ‘mortal’ sins, and ‘venial’, with the latter worse than the former. Rather the scriptures, the Confession, and the Larger Catechism (28-29), all affirm that all sin is mortal, that is, deserving of death. “The main point is that regeneration does not immediately eradicate sin. Indeed no matter how saintly a Christian may become, he never achieves sinless perfection in this life.”2

1. ‘The Mortification of Sin’ John Owen, The Banner Of Truth Trust [Abridged and made easy to read by Richard Rushing] ©2004.

2. Clark, (78)

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section VI.3-4

“They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:16-17; Acts 17:26; Rom. 4:11, 23-25; 5:12, 15-19; I Cor. 15:21-22).” ‘They’, of course, are Adam and Eve, and ‘this sin’ is the so-called ‘original sin’, as per the previous sections (1-2). Here the fathers of the Confession were very specific as to why all people are sinners because of what transpired so long ago through our first parents. The ‘guilt’ of condemnation on all is via ‘imputation’. Paul makes clear that we actually sinned this original sin ourselves, through Adam our covenantal head (5:12). It is not  by pro-creation, otherwise there would be no grounds for our justification, because it comes by way of the imputation of our sin to him, and his righteous standing to us (Rom. 4:11, 23-25; 5:15-19). “And the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation (Gen. 5:3; Job14:4; 15:14; Ps. 51:5).”

The fathers added “by ordinary generation” to exclude Christ, who, because he was never included the Adamic or Creation ‘covenant of works’, did not have our first transgression imputed to him. Confusion in this matter also is the basis for the Roman Catholic conception of ‘the immaculate conception’.1 “From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite all good (Rom. 5:6; 7:18; 8:7; Col. 1:21), and wholly inclined to all evil (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Rom. 3:10-12), do proceed all actual transgressions (Mt. 15:19; Eph. 2:2-3; Js. 1:14-15).” The biblical truth of covenantal headship, as being central to both Adam and Christ, also leads to what was a point of contention among the fathers of the Confession, when it comes to the question of the corruption of our nature, namely, in how it is passed on to Adam’s posterity. In addition to the problem of doctrine of ‘the immaculate conception’ noted above, there are also a number of other problems with this view.2

First, it would require that this corruption would have to also pass via Eve, but the scriptures are clear that our state as sinners is due solely to our connection to our covenant head – Adam, and not Eve. Second, due to our connection to our new head, Christ, it must imply that the performance of any good, in contrast to our ‘actual sins’, would require that Jesus’ own righteous character would need to pass on to us as well, or that we perform them strictly in our own strength. See WSC #16, and WLC #22. “If God is sovereign, and if he has approved the principle of representation, then there is nothing immoral about representation and imputation.”3 With respect to Section IV, Clark adds, “this corruption pervades our whole nature. There is no part or function of man that is unaffected by sin.”4 This last point is also a reiteration of the doctrine of ‘total depravity’.

1. InChristian theology, theImmaculate Conception is the conception of the Virgin Mary free from original sin by virtue of the merits of her son Jesus. The Catholic Church teaches that God acted upon Mary in the first moment of her conception, keeping her “immaculate”.[1] Immaculate Conception is commonly confused with the virgin birth of Jesus, the latter being, rather, the doctrine of the Incarnation. While virtually all Christians believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, it is principally Roman Catholics, along with various other Christian denominations, who believe in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Although the belief that Mary was sinless, or conceived without original sin, has been widely held since Late Antiquity, the doctrine was not dogmatically defined in the Catholic Church until 1854 when Pope Pius IX, declared ex cathedra, i.e., using papal infallibility, in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus,[2] the Immaculate Conception to be doctrine. The Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8; in many Catholic countries, it is a holy day of obligation or patronal feast, and in some a national public holiday.[3] (Wikipedia)

2. “The portrayal in WCF 6.3 of Adam and Eve as the dual source of human guilt reflects an older Christian tradition that emphasizes our participation in the effects of their sin by reason of our biological connection to the corrupt human nature of our first parents. Nonetheless, the description of both Adam and Eve as ‘a root of all mankind’ is comparatively unusual in English theology before and after 1646. George Walker offers the more common understanding of the phrase when he restricts this ‘root’ to Adam. See, e.g., Walker, ‘History of Creation as It Was Written by Moses’, pp. 197, 207, and Walker, ‘The Key of Saving Knowledge’ (London, 1641), p. 20, where he refers to Adam as the ‘common stock and root of mankind’, and Walker, ‘A Sermon Preached in London by a faithful Minister of Christ’ (London, 1642), p. 12, where he calls Adam the ‘common father and root of all mankind’. In the years following the assembly the most prominent person to note the assembly’s phrase in 6.3 was the Irish Bishop Jeremy Taylor, who catalogues it as a fault, and lists it within a larger condemnation of assembly doctrines. See Jeremy Taylor, Deus justificatus (London, 1656), pp. 29-30” Van Dixhoorn, (89).

3. Clark, (75)

4. (77 Cf. “Romans 5 is not the only section of the New Testament where the idea of imputation is found. The previous chapter is full of it. Verses 6, 8, 11, 24 all contain the same word in Greek. A concordance will show that the same word and the same idea is also found in II Timothy 4:16, II Cor. 5:19, Philemon 18, and elsewhere. Some of these references speak to the imputation of sin, some of the imputation of righteousness, some use the idea in relation to human obligations. But all exemplify the idea of imputation.” 74)

An Introduction To Canon Formation.

It is popular in conservative circles to suggest that the formation of the canon, especially the Hebrew/Aramaic, is a matter which rests solely on the witness of the Holy Spirit to the individual believer, or the corporate body. Without deny that this is what enables one to make a true judgement, it fails to note the criteria which the Spirit himself has given us within the scriptures themselves, which in fact reinforces their self-referential authority as canon. The reluctance to see any human involvement in this enterprise stems, I believe, at least in part, from the Protestant response to the Roman Catholic dogma that the church, through her leadership, has the final authority to determine the formation of the canon. Again, also not wanting to deny the error of this dogma, it does not follow that the scriptures themselves do not provide the plenary and conceptual criteria which we not only can refer to, but are in fact commanded to do so.

This paradigm is found in the tests given in determining whom were true prophets and who were not. Although not exhausting all the locations where material may be found, two key passages, logically found in the last book of Moses, who was uniquely confirmed to be a true prophet of God by God, are at Deuteronomy 13, and 18:15-22. The former is a qualifying test to be brought to certain empirical phenomenon. A so-called “dreamer of dreams,” doing ‘wonders’, even if also calling themselves a ‘prophet’, were not speaking the truth if they were advocating a commitment to other gods, other than the One Only God as revealed through Moses in the law. The law was to be referred to in the formation of further canon (vv. 1-5). So serious was this matter, that even if one’s own family were guilty, it was literally a matter of life and death (vv. 6-11), so also for any community which ignored or disregarded this canonical test (vv. 12-18).

Although Wolfe does not specifically apply 18:15-22, he does put forward the following with respect to verses 18, and 20-22. “There are three things to notice in this passage. First of all, we actually have here a critical attitude toward what claims to be revelation. Not just anyone can get away with standing up and speaking for God. Specific constraints are imposed upon the would-be prophet so we can discriminate between real and phony ones. Second, the prophet must relate his message to the Mosaic teaching (“a prophet like you”) and relate his teaching to the already established words of Jehovah (“when a prophet speaks in the Name of the LORD”). This is an application of the coherence criterion. A prophet who delivered teachings totally unrelated to the prophetic tradition was not to be taken seriously. Finally, then there is an application of experiential or empirical constraints. No prophet whose predictions fail is to be believed on other matters. [‘Epistemology. The Justification Of Belief.’ (81)]

Fulfillment in history, one might say, was one part of what went into verifying the veracity of the prophet’s truth claims. Note also that God through Moses also reiterates his previous ‘test’ of whether the prophet is true, that being if he or she “Speaks in the name of other gods” (20). These tests then, not only applied to the formation of the law, or the five books of Moses, but were meant to be the canonical standard going forward with future revelation.

[More to come.]

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section VI.1-2

“Our first parents being seduced by the subtilty and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:13; II Cor. 11:3). Here we see that Satan is the means by which our first parents were led to sin against a specific command given by God, of ‘special’ verbal revelation – a law not to eat fruit from the forbidden true. This tree was symbolic of the knowledge of good and evil. We know from Genesis 3 that it was not a literal snake that deceived Eve, but rather it was Satan who possessed and manifested himself in and through a snake. Similarly we are to understand the totality of the curse on the serpent as being a curse on Satan only, for a snake, as all other creatures, does not possess a moral volition, acting only by instinct.

When God utters the curse that the Serpent would crawl on his belly, God is cursing Satan by humbling him to a position where he must ‘lick the dust’, that is to be God’s defeated enemy. It is therefore an irony that Satan should employ a snake, which has been from the beginning a creature that crawls along the ground, and as such a visible symbol of Satan’s new state (Gen. 3:14-15 Cf. Jn. 8:44; Rev. 12:9; 20:2). We should also note that when we read that Adam was ‘with’ Eve when she was deceived and ate of the forbidden fruit, it does not necessarily mean that he was by her immediate side, but was with her in the garden. The latter better explains Paul’s words in II Corinthians 11:3.

If Adam were immediately by Eve’s side, Paul would not have said that he was not deceived as Eve was. Clearly Eve gave her husband the fruit of which she had eaten without him being immediately present at her side, and may in fact not have known where it was from, but he did not ask her where she got the fruit from, since he had never eaten it before (I Tim. 2:14). “This their sin God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory (Rom. 11:32).” This sentence hearkens back to earlier statements regarding God’s decrees, and it is in this context that we must understand the word ‘permit’ here.

The use of the word ‘permit’ must be reconciled with their statement at V.4 which states that God’s providential will “extends itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men, and that not by a bare permission.” Clark, in reference to this clause refers to Calvin’s Institutes II. Iv.3 and xxii.8.1 Therefore, the word ‘permit’ must carry a meaning in this context that is somehow used in a way that still anchors it in sovereign decretive will. “Here they [those who object to the divine decrees] recur to the distinction between will and permission, and insist that God permits the destruction of the impious, but does not will it. But what reason shall we assign for his permitting it, but because it is his will? (Institutes III, xxii, (8; cf. II, iv, 3).”2

“By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God (Gen. 3:6-8; Eccl. 7:29; Rom. 3:23), and so became dead in sin (Gen. 2:17; Eph. 2:1), and wholly defiled in all faculties and parts of soul and body (Titus 1:15; Gen. 6:5; Rom. 3:10-18).It is also repeated here that fallen humanity is totally depraved, that is ‘total’ in all our parts, but not necessarily in degree. Total depravity also refers to it being a reality to our heart or core. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9 Cf. Js. 1:15) The spiritual and physical aspects of our humanity are affected, even our intellect is affected by the so-called ‘noetic’ or mind affects of sin, so that it also must be renewed (Rom. 12:1-2).

1. (67)

2. Ibid., (72)

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section V.2-7

Section 1 made clear that the doctrine of providence, that is, the sovereign will of a personal God, eliminates both chance and fate. Sections 2-6 “of the Confession are directed against certain erroneous inferences which men have drawn from the doctrine stated in section 1 of this chapter. Here we are taught (1) that God’s absolute sovereignty does not destroy the integrity of man’s liberty, (2) nor does it deny the operation of second causes, (3) that God is, however, free to overrule these “laws” (and causes) when he pleases, (4) that God ordered even the fall of man without himself doing any evil, and (5) that God’s sovereignty extends to the inward operations of man’s heart (in both the saved and the lost) without participation in sin.”1 The sections that follow elaborate on these issues.

“Section II. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly (Acts 2:23); yet, by the same providence, he orders them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently (Gen. 8:22; Ex. 21:13; Deut. 19:5; I Kgs. 22:28, 34; Is. 10:6-7; Jer. 31:35).” These sections reaffirm the idea that God predestines the means as well as the end of his sovereign work in history. “The bible teaches that all things are certainly determined, but that God’s providence arranges events according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. God does not decree an auto wreck apart from its causes; caution is the usual cause of safety, and wrecks are caused by recklessness.”2

Clark quoted the following from Zanchius’ ‘Absolute Predestination’. “In consequence of God’s immutable will and infallible foreknowledge, whatever things come to pass, come to pass necessarily, though with respect to second causes and us men, many things are contingent, i.e., unexpected and seemingly accidental.’ Thus the term ‘contingent’ refers to man’s way of looking at events, or more explicitly to man’s incomplete knowledge of how the events were caused.”3 “Section III. God in his ordinary providence makes use of means (Is. 55:10-11; Hos. 2:21-22; Acts 27:31, 44), yet is free to work without (Job 34:10; Hos. 1:7; Mt. 4:4), above (Rom. 4:19-21), and against them (II Kgs. 6:6; Dan. 3:27), at his pleasure.” God, in being independent of the means, is free to employ or not employ them to his own ends.

Furthermore, creation and providence are inseparable, since he sustains what he has created by the very modes of their original constitution. God is likewise free to re-create all that he has made in his sovereign redemptive plan. “It is in the execution of the same unchangeable plan that God first created every thing, endowed it with its properties, determined its mode of action and its mutual relations to all other things, and ever afterward continues to preserve it in the possession of its properties and to guide it in the exercise of them. Even in the writings of the prophets and apostles, who wrote under the control of a specific divine influence, rendering even their selection of words infallibly accurate, we can plainly see that the spontaneous exercise of the faculties of the writers was neither superseded nor coerced.”4

It is sometimes remarked that an inerrant and infallible inspiration of holy scripture must somehow violate the free actions of the human authors, but such a charge fails to understand the doctrine of providence. “The providence of God is either ordinary or miraculous. In his ordinary providence God works by means, and according to the general laws established by his own wisdom: we are, therefore, bound to use the means which he has appointed, and if we neglect these, we cannot expect to obtain the end. But though God generally acts according to establish laws, yet he may suspend or modify these laws at pleasure. And when, by his immediate agency, an effect is produced above or beside the ordinary course of nature, this we denominate a miracle.”5

“Section IV. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that it extends itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men (Rom. 11:32-34; II Sam. 16:10; 24:1; I Kgs. 22:22-23; I Chron. 10:4, 13-14; 21:1; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28), and that not by a bare permission (Acts 14:16), but such as has joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding (II Kgs. 19:28; Ps. 126:10), and otherwise ordering and governing them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends (Gen. 1:20; Is. 10:6-7, 12); yet so as the sinfulness thereof proceeds only from the creature, and not from God; who being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin (Ps. 1:21; I Jn. 2:16; Js. 1:13-14, 17).”

“That the providence of God is concerned about the sinful actions of creatures must be admitted. Joseph’s brethren committed a most wicked and unnatural action in selling him to the Midianites; but Joseph thus addressed his brethren: (Gen. 45:5). The most atrocious crime ever perpetrated by human hands was the crucifixion of the Lord of glory, yet it is expressly affirmed that God delivered him into those wicked hands which were imbrued in his sacred blood.”6 “God’s relation to sin is not that of bare permission; in fact, as Calvin shows in his ‘Institutes’, II, iv. 3 and III, xxiii. 8, permission in the case of the Almighty has no specific meaning; the proof texts cited in the Confession and many other passages not cited amply support the creedal statement.”7

“Section V. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God, does oftentimes leave for a season his own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption, and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled (II Sam. 24:1; I Chr. 24:1; II Chr. 32:25-26, 31); and to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself, and to make more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends (Ps. 73; 77:1, 10, 12; Mk. 14:66-72; Jn. 21:15, 17; II Cor. 12:7-9).” “The providence of God, instead of causing sin or approving it, is constantly concerned in forbidding it by positive law, in discouraging it by threatenings and actual punishments, in restraining it  and in overruling it against its own nature to good.”8

“Section VI. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous judge, for former sins does blind and harden (Rom. 1:24-28; 11:7-8), from them he not only withholds his grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts (Dt. 29:4), but sometimes also withdraws the gifts which they had (Mt. 13:12; 25:29), and exposes them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin (Dt. 2:30; II Kgs. 8:12-13), and withal, gives them over to their lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan (Ps. 81:11-12; II Th. 2:10-12); whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God uses for the softening of others (Ex. 7:3; 8:15, 32; Is. 6:9-10; 8:14; Acts 28:26-27; II Cor. 2:15-16; I Pet. 2:7-8).”

“In Scripture, God is frequently said to harden wicked men for their former sins. This he does, not by infusing any wickedness into their hearts, or by direct and positive influence on their soul in rendering them obdurate, but by withholding his grace, which is necessary to soften their hearts, and which he is free to give or withhold as he pleases; by giving them over to their own hearts’ lusts, to the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan; and by providentially placing them in such circumstances, or presenting such objects before them, as their corruption makes an occasion of hardening themselves.”9  “That the general providence of God, embracing and dealing with every creature according to its nature, consequently, although one system, embraces several subordinate systems intimately related as parts of one whole.

The principle of these are, the providence of God over the material universe; the general moral government of God over the intelligent universe; the moral government of God over the human family in general in this world; and the special gracious dispensation of God’s providence toward his Church.”10 “Section VII. As the providence of God does, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it takes care of his church, and disposes all things to the good thereof (II Chron. 16:9; Is. 43:3-5, 14; Amos 9:8-9; Rom. 8:28; I Tim. 4:10).” “These sections teach also that there is a relation of subordination subsisting between these several systems of providence, as means to ends in the wider system which comprehends them all. Thus the providential government over mankind in general is subordinate as a means to an end to his gracious providence toward his church (Rom. viii. 28).”11

Hodge also elaborates on this last point, by referring to what has come to be called biblical revelation, but also the growth and strengthening of the church following upon the close of that special revelation, as the former is a sure hope for the church of the latter. “The history of redemption through all its dispensations, Patriarchal, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Christian, is key to the philosophy of human history in general. The race is preserved, continents and islands are settled with inhabitants, nations are elevated to empire, philosophy and practical arts, civilization and liberty are advanced, that the Church, the Lamb’s bride, may be perfected in all her members and adorned for her Husband.”12 This in turn is for the equipping of the church to proclaim, work, and pray that the Lord’s kingdom would come, and that his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven (Mt. 6:10 Cf. Mt. 16:15-20).

1. Williamson, (48-49)

2. Clark, (62)

3. Ibid., (64)

4. Hodge, (96)

5. Shaw, (111)

6. Ibid., (112)

7. Clark, (67)

8. Hodge, (100)

9. Shaw, (113)

10. Hodge, (101)

11. Ibid., (101)

12. Ibid., (101)

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section V.1

“God, the great Creator of all things, does uphold (Heb. 1:3), direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions and things (Job 38-41; Ps. 135:6; Dan. 4:34-35; Acts 17:25-28), from the greatest even to the least (Mt. 10:29-31), by his most wise and holy providence (Ps. 104:24; 145:17; Pr. 15:3), according to his infallible foreknowledge (Ps. 94:8-11; Acts 15:18), and the free and immutable counsel of his own will (Ps. 33:10-11; Eph. 1:11), to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness and mercy (Gen. 45:7; Ps. 145:7; Is. 63:14; Rom. 9:17; Eph. 3:10).” The doctrine of God’s providence is at once also a significant part of a biblical perspective on history. God both created history, and sustains it for his own purposeful end, seen most definitively in biblical redemptive history, which includes all the elements above and below (Heb. 1:2; 11:3).

“The Scriptures explicitly declare that such a providential control is exerted – (a) Over the physical world [a] In general. Job xxxvii. 6-13; Ps. civ. 14; cxxxv. 6, 7; cxlvii. 15-18. [b] Individual events in the natural world, however trivial. Matt. X.29. (b) Over fortuitous events. Job v.6; Prov. Xvi. 33. (c) Over brute creation. Ps. civ. 21-27; cxlvii. 9. (d) Over the general affairs of men. Job xii. 23; Isa. X. 12-15; Dan. Ii.21; iv. 25. (e) Over the circumstances of individuals. 1 Sam. Ii. 6-8; Prov. Xvi. 9; James iv. 13-15. (f) Over the free actions of men. Ex. Xii. 36; Ps. xxxiii. 14, 15; Prov. Xix. 21; xxi.1; Phil. Ii. 13. (g) Over the sinful actions of men. 2 Sam. Xvi. 10; Ps. lxxvi. 10; Acts iv. 27, 28. (h) Especially all that is good in man, in principle or action, is attributed to God’s constant gracious control. Phil. Ii. 13; iv. 13; 2 Cor. Xii. 9, 10; Eph. Ii. 10; Ps. cxix. 36; Gal. v. 22-25.” (Hodge, 94)

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section IV.1-2

Creation, and providence to follow, are the outworking of God’s decrees, as noted in the previous sections. “It pleased God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13; 33:4; Jn. 1:2-3; I Cor. 8:6), for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom and goodness (Ps. 104:24; 33:5-6; Is. 44:24; 45:12; Jer. 10:12; Rom. 1:20; Rom. 1:20), in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good (Gen. 1; Acts 17:24; Col. 1:16).” The creation of all things must be understood to have two aspects. On the one hand the triune God created something out of nothing. Everything in creation had a beginning. Only God is eternal. Secondly, God then created the world, beginning in the rest of the first 24 hr day, and then in the other five successive days (Ex. 20:11). The first days, not being declared as different from those described with ‘day’ and ‘night’, are in fact defined by those elements which were created to in effect be that which rules ‘day’ and ‘night’ – being sun and moon.

We also are told that God’s creative work involved all three persons of the trinity. We read that God said ‘let us’ create man after their image. This rules out the only other persons that may be referred to, namely the angels, for humans only are described as being created in his image. As it is the chief end of man to glory and enjoy God for ever, even so the whole of creation was a work of God for the manifestation of his glory. Creation also conveys that knowledge of God that all humanity has of God, namely “his eternal power, wisdom and goodness.” God created both the things visible and invisible, and because of this, we ought not to forget that there is an invisible realm every bit as much as there is a visible realm. Since God is goodness himself, all that he had made he described as being ‘good’, and ‘very good’. As we will also see when looking at God’s providence, God also created time and history (Heb. 1:2; 11:3). Since creation is regarded as the outworking of his sovereign will and purpose, we know that the whole of creation, and the study and care of it, are guided by his will and purpose.

“After God made all other creatures, he created man, male and female (Gen. 1:27), with reasonable and immortal souls (Gen. 2:7; Ec. 12:7; Lk. 23:43; Mt. 10:28), endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image (Gen. 1:26; Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24-25).” Besides stating that humans are created immediately by God, the Confession affirms that God created them as male and female. This is the beginning of a person’s personal self-identity, and there are only two possibilities. Second, we learn that humans are both physical and spiritual in nature. Third, the human soul is reasonable, and thus that which pertains to the soul is not anything contrary to reason, that the rational ability of humanity is more than just biological activity of the brain. Fourth, although the soul, as well as the body, have a beginning, they will have no end. Fifth, each human being is programmed with certain software, so to speak, that is both epistemological (the study of knowledge), and moral (ethics) in nature. All of this and more is part of what it means to be created in the image of God.

It is no coincidence that the fathers began the definition of the image with knowledge, for this is the first axiom of our existence. We could not function as image bearers of God if we did not have that knowledge which is from God, in this case innate and ‘a prior’, that is, the reasoning ability to deduce propositions prior to observations or experience. We are also taught that humans are moral agents who, as part of being the image bearers of God, evidence such in “righteousness, and holiness.” “Having the law of God written in their hearts (Rom. 2:14-15), and power to fulfill it (Ec. 7:29); and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change (Gen. 3:6; Ec. 7:29).” Human beings, from the moment of creation, had a knowledge of God’s law which was compatible with the ability to reason truthfully, and to obey it fully. Sixth, human beings, from the beginning, had a freedom to obey or disobey the knowledge of God and his law, that was given in their very constitution as his image bearers, and a conscience to make this distinction.

“Besides this law written in their hearts, they received a command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17; 3:8-11, 23); which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures (Gen. 1:26, 28).” Seven, part of being created in God’s image is to live happily in harmony with God. Eight, all these character distinctives, which together set humanity apart from the rest of creation, equipped humanity to exercise dominion under God as his stewards. The fact that Christ appeals to the initial creation of humanity as male and female, in opposition to free divorce, supports the truth that this also was a part of humanity’s original state (Mal. 2:15; Mt. 19:4-5). This first human pair, in covenant representation in Adam, were placed in the position of having God’s law within and in a special revelatory word. By this we ought not to forget that God’s word was given for more than just redemption, occurring as it did before the fall, being the law disobeyed.

Scripture and the Confession are also emphatic that the creation of man did not come via an evolutionary process. It is also clear that the definition of the image, in which we were and are created, cannot be reduced to one aspect only. The image involves both body and soul, the visible and the invisible or physical and spiritual, the internal and external, the epistemological and moral, the inherent and the functional. We have the task of dominion stewardship, and the make-up in order to fulfill this role. Part of the image, stated here in our being created male and female, is that we have personal identity, and are designed to live in community. As was noted in the treatment of the doctrine of the trinity, only if Moses and the first recipients of the Genesis account understood the differing personalities in the Godhead, in the ‘let us’ and ‘our’, could they understand this personal and relational truth. Of course, in the creation of man by God, we also learn that there is a qualitative difference between God and humanity.

In naming the animals we also see that Adam was created from the beginning with the innate ability to speak intelligible words, which gave expression to his thinking and reasoning ability and process. Adam’s innate cognitive ability enabled him to engage in the discipline of science, examining the other creatures and giving them names that fit their distinctive characteristics. As will be stated more fully concerning the fall, though the image may be in a sense marred by the fall, it still remains, an idea which must guide our relations with all people (Js. 3:9). Furthermore, we also understand that this image is being renewed by the Spirit to be in conformity to the image of Christ, “in knowledge” (Col. 3:10), “true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). It should not be missed that there is an understanding that sin also affects our thinking, what is called the noetic effects of sin, and why we must be renewed in our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). We should also not miss the point that all races are included in our first parents, and therefore there can be no grounds for racism of any kind.

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section III.6-8

God predestines the means as well as the end, in his good providence. “As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto (Eph. 1:4-5; 2:10; II Th. 2:13; I Pet. 1:2).” There is an order to the salvation of the elect in history. “Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ (I Th. 5:9-10; Titus 2:14).” It is by being included in the covenant made with Adam, that all humanity sinned in his sin, and thus all are fallen (Rom. 5:12). All are born in a sinful state, not by physical birth, but by covenantal inclusion. It is the same basis by which we are redeemed in Christ, by being in covenant with him. This is the context of our union with him, being ‘in Christ’. This union takes place at our effectual calling, which by grace includes our repentance and faith. We are “effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season.” ‘Due season’ is the working out of our salvation by providence in our history.

Effectual calling is the beginning of what has come to be called the ‘ordo salutis’, or order of salvation, as it pertains to the application of redemption which was planned before we were born. From this beginning there follows on an equal plane the three actions and states of adoption, sanctification, both definitive and progressive, and justification. We “are justified, adopted, sanctified (Rom. 8:30; Eph. 1:5; II Th. 2:13), and kept by his power through faith unto salvation (I Pet. 1:5).” The saints, the elect, will persevere to the end for a complete salvation in glorification. “Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only (Jn. 17:9; Rom. 8:28; Jn. 6:64-65; 8:47; 10:26; I Jn. 2:19).” Again, the ‘ordo salutis’ is typically seen in sequential terms only, but adoption, justification, and definitive sanctification should be seen as concurrent, directly sequential to effectual calling, and progressive sanctification as flowing upon definitive sanctification.

This one paragraph in the Confession also includes, either directly or indirectly, what has come to be understood as the ‘tulip’ understanding of salvation. Total depravity is made mention of in our fall in Adam, unconditional election and limited atonement in the elect here as those “redeemed in Christ” and “the elect only,” irresistible grace in our effectual calling, and perseverance “being kept by his power.” There is also a distinction drawn between being redeemed and being saved, as not being synonymous. This section represents the elect as “their redemption by Christ as being effectually called unto faith in Christ. Their justification, adoption, sanctification and final salvation are just the blessings which constitute the deliverance obtained through the death of Christ; and, therefore, their redemption by Christ must signify, not the deliverance itself, but the payment of the price which procured their deliverance.

Their redemption by Christ is already complete – it was finished by Christ on the cross; but their actual deliverance is to be effected “in due season,” namely, when they are united to Christ by faith. In this section, then, we are taught: 1. That Christ, by his death, did not merely render the salvation of all men possible, or bring them into a salvable state, but purchased and secured a certain salvation to all for whom he died (John 17:4; Heb. 4:12). 2. That Christ died exclusively for the elect and purchased redemption for them alone (Jn. 10:15, 28-29). 3. We are further taught that salvation shall be effectually applied by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 6:37; Acts 13:48).”1 This salvation is also affirmed as a trinitarian work. “Thus our Confession, agreeable to Scripture, represents each of the divine persons as acting a distinct part in the glorious work of human redemption, and as entirely concurring in counsel and operation.”2

In regards to Section VII and VIII, and as stated in the previous sections, grace was and is required for the elect to have the repentance and faith that is necessary, but the reprobate are simply left in the condition that all men fell into in our rebellion in the Adamic covenant. However, in that the predestination of both the elect and the reprobate happened before either were born, it is also true to say, in harmony with the scriptural testimony, that he did also ordain the reprobate to be objects of “dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice (Mt. 11:25-26; Jn. 3:36; Rom. 9:17-22; Eph. 5:6; II Tim. 2:19-20; Jude 4; I Pet. 2:7-8).” For some, grace is withheld, that in them the just punishment for sin might also be to God’s glory. “There is nothing whatever in men that provides God with a reason for electing one man and passing by another.”3

The doctrine of predestination (Sec. VIII), some argue is arbitrary, but it is not really arbitrary, because God predestines according to his own good pleasure. Also, some want to avoid this doctrine, but it has been given to us to know it by divine revelation for a purpose (Dt. 29:29; Lk. 10:20; Rom. 8:29-33; 9:20; 11:5-6, 20, 33; Eph. 1:3-14; II Pet. 1:10; . “The truth is that when the doctrine is not taught with care and prudence the danger of false presumption is increased. But when the doctrine is taught without reservation the desired diligence and humility is the God-given result. The evidence certainly does not show that neglect of this doctrine has produced that humility, diligence, and abundant consolation, that has marked the Church in better days when this doctrine was so handled.”4 “So shall this doctrine afford a matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence and abundant consolation, to all that sincerely obey the gospel.”

“Aside from the fact that God has commanded his servants to preach all his revelation, one great reason for preaching on the eternal decree is that a knowledge of sovereignty, election, and predestination is necessary in order to understand many other doctrines. If God has not from all eternity decided to preserve me in grace, do I have any spiritual power in myself to persevere to the end? And if I have such power, would not salvation be achieved through my own efforts and by my own merits, rather than by God’s grace.”5 These doctrines also have a bearing on the biblical view of history, including the fulfillment of prophecy. “Given the sovereignty of God, his omnipotence and omniscience, predestination follows by logic alone. Given the creation of the world by an Almighty Creator, it necessarily follows that history must accord with the eternal decree.”6

“Salvation is declared to be in its very essence a matter of grace; and if of grace, the selection of its subjects is inalienably a matter of divine discretion. Lam. Iii. 22; Rom. iv. 4; xi. 6; Eph. i. 5-7; John iii. 16; 1 John iii16; iv. 10.”7 “The principle of divine sovereignty in the distribution of grace is certainly revealed in Scripture, is not difficult of comprehension, and is of great practical use to convince men of the greatness and independence of God, of the certain efficacy of his grace and security of his promises, and of their own sin and absolute dependence.”8 However, Hodge is also right to stress that “this truth ought not, moreover, to be obtruded out of its due place in the system, which includes the equally certain truths of the freedom of man and the free offers of the gospel to all. The command to repent and believe is addressed to all men indiscriminately, and the obligation rests equally with all.”9

“The salvation of the elect is wholly ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’, and the condemnation of the non-elect is ‘to the praise of his glorious justice’. Calvin justly remarks: ‘That those things which the Lord hath laid up in secret, we may not search; those things which he hath brought openly abroad, we may not neglect; lest either on the one part we be condemned of vain curiosity, or on the other part, of unthankfulness.’ Were this doctrine either dangerous or useless, God would not have revealed it, and for men to attempt to suppress it, is to arraign the wisdom of God, as though he foresaw not the danger which they would arrogantly interpose to prevent. ‘Whosoever,’ adds Calvin, ‘laboureth to bring the doctrine of predestination into misliking, he openly saith evil of God; as though somewhat had unadvisedly slipped from him which is hurtful to the church.’”10

1. Shaw, (93)

2. Ibid., (95)

3. Williamson, (38)

4. Ibid., (39-40)

5. Clark (47)

6. Ibid., (47)

7. A.A. Hodge, (75)

8. Ibid., (76)

9. Ibid., (77)

10. Shaw, (97-98 Cf. Calvin’s Institutes, book iii, ch. 21. Sec. 4.)

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section III.3-5

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.” (3) This third part to section III states the biblical truth that God is completely sovereign. Before anyone were born, he determined their futures, “even the wicked for the day of doom” (Pr. 16:4 Cf. Pr. 8:23). Paul referred back to Jacob and Esau. “As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’” (Rom. 9:13) The death of the wicked is what all humanity deserved, based upon the covenant made through Adam, and the choice we all made to rebel. Therefore, the wonder is that mercy should come to any (Eph. 1:4-5). “What if God, wanting to show his wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of Hid glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory.” (9:22-23)

From the account of the Fall, we learn that there was a prior ‘fall’ of the angel Satan, and with further revelation we learn that others fell with him, but there are elect angels as well (Mt. 25:41; I Tim. 5:21). “These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished (Jn. 13:18; I Tim. 5:21; II Tim. 2:19; II Pet. 2:4).” The Lord knows who are his own, who are predestined unto election, whereas the wicked are predestined unto reprobation. “Those of mankind that are predestined unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, has chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory (Eph. 1:4, 9, 11; Rom. 8:28-30; II Tim. 1:9; I Th. 5:9).” There is also a particular election of the remnant within the larger elect nation of Israel (Mt. 24:22; Rom. 11:5).

“Out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto (Rom. 9:11, 13, 16; Eph. 1:4, 9), and all to the praise of his glorious grace (Eph. 1:6, 12).” The elect are such by grace through faith, all of which is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9). The elect will also not be lost. “We are assured from Scripture that they who believe ‘were ordained to eternal life’ and that they were ‘chosen to salvation’ (Acts 13:48; 2 Thess. 2:13).”1 “Election itself originated in divine sovereignty, and had no other cause than the good pleasure of God’s will (Eph. 1:5). The divine purpose is one, embracing the means as well as the end; but according to our conception of the operations of the divine mind, the end is first in intention, and then the means are appointed by which it is to be carried into effect,…that God had a respect to the mediation of Christ.”2

1. Shaw, (87)

2. Ibid., (92)